What is a clinical trial?
A clinical trial is a research study conducted with cancer patients, most often to evaluate a new treatment. Clinical trials help us find out if a promising new treatment is safe and effective for patients. Patients in a clinical trial are among the first to receive new research treatments before they are widely available. You will be given a written consent form that will have important information about risks and benefits of taking part in a trial.
Why are patients interested in clinical trials?
There are many reasons patients take part in clinical trials. They may be hoping the treatment will cure their disease, or extend their life, or contribute to a research effort to help others. Although there is always the chance that a new treatment will be disappointing, the researchers involved in the study have reason to believe that the treatment will be as good as, or better than, current treatments.
Are there risks involved in taking part in a clinical trial?
Yes, there are risks involved in clinical trials. There may be side effects and other health risks depending on the type of treatment. Before taking part in a clinical trial, your doctor will tell you what side effects you can expect, and, as much as possible, about what is unknown or uncertain about the treatment side effects. It’s important to keep in mind that standard treatments also cause side effects and risks.
Can anyone take part in a clinical trial?
No. Each study only enrolls patients who fit certain criteria or guidelines. It will depend on what research questions the study is trying to answer and whether or not you are a good fit for the study. This will depend upon your type and stage of cancer and your health status.
What else should I know about clinical trials before I decide to enroll in one?
The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Federal Government’s chief agency for cancer research in the United States, suggests you ask the following questions before making a decision about taking part in a clinical trial:
- What is the purpose of the study?
- What does the study involve?
- What kinds of tests and treatments are involved and how are they done?
- What are the other choices and their advantages and disadvantages? Are there standard treatments for my case and how does this study compare with them?
- Will the study affect my daily life? If so, how?
- What side effects and risks will I have?
- How long will the study last?
- Will I have to be in the hospital? If so, how often and for how long?
- Will I have any costs? Will any of my treatment be free?
- If I am harmed as a result of the research, what treatment would I be entitled to?
- What type of long-term follow-up care is part of the study?
How can I find out about clinical trials?
First, talk with your doctor and get the opinion of cancer specialists. A treatment system called Physician Data Query (PDQ) is supported by NCI and it can give your doctor the latest information about what clinical trials are being offered around the country for different types and stages of cancer. Or, you can call the Cancer Information Service (CIS) to request a search for your -self at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). You can get information in both English and Spanish. You also can find clinical trials information on the Internet at: www.clinicaltrials.gov or www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials or www.cancertrialshelp.org.
Do I have to enroll in a clinical trial if my doctor suggests one?
No. Taking part in a clinical trial is strictly voluntary. Before you begin, you will be asked to sign an informed consent document stating that the research, its risks, and its potential benefits have been explained to you and that all of your questions have been answered.
If I start a clinical trial, do I have to finish it?
No, you are free to leave the study at any time. Leaving a trial will not be held against you by your health care team.